If you’re among those who can’t leave your new fur baby alone and are constantly cuddling and playing with him or her, you’re absolutely blameless—puppies are second to none when it comes to cuteness.
However, though those OG puppy-dog eyes may beseech you to play the whole day, there is such a thing as too much play, and this can impact your little one’s growth and development.
If you’re wondering how long playtime should be with your puppy each day, here’s a 101 on all things puppy-playtime related, from why you should do it to doing it right to games you can try.
How Much Playtime Do Puppies Need?
Though we wish there was a standard answer to this, this question has led to tons of debates between all parties in the dog world, except for the puppers themselves, probably.
However, from breeders to trainers to veterinarians to pet parents, the common consensus is that too much playtime, which naturally translates to too much exercise, is more harmful than good, just as too little exercise is, too.
So how, then, do you determine how much playtime your puppy needs?
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Determining Playtime Needs
The lack of sufficient studies, a range of opinions and the excess of information on the internet may lead to quite a bit of overwhelming confusion, but don’t be alarmed.
While we wish there were puppy-version fitness trackers or charts to clear the air around this question, a good place to start is with your puppy’s age and breed.
Here are a few factors that may help you figure out how much exercise your puppy needs:
- Breed: Some breeds are more active than others and therefore, have more exercising capacity. This is generally paired with a higher heat tolerance that enables playing outdoors for relatively long periods.
- Size: Larger breeds have been linked with orthopedic diseases on overexercising. Even if your German Shepherd can keep up with you on your 3-mile hike, it’s not a good idea to put him through it. Smaller breeds have more energy; it is a common misconception that size equals energy levels.
- Age: Puppies’ exercising needs change with their age. Very young puppies need to have plenty of time to nap, interspersed with short walks and many play sessions. As they grow older, say, at around 6 months, your puppy can take short jogs and longer walks, but long hikes are still a ‘no’.
For all the above, learning as much as possible about your dog and his breed is not only a great place to start but also extremely important.
Larger breeds show faster growth but mature slowly, so you’ll have to wait till they’re fully grown to introduce exercises/playing such as jumping and agility.
Alternatively, toy breeds mature quickly but grow slowly, and as puppies, require frequent feeding in small amounts through the day, so you’ll have to adjust playtime accordingly.
Additionally, bear in mind that playtime isn’t just about physical stimulation; it’s as much about mental stimulation.
Breeds such as Collies and German Shepherds require more mental stimulation, as they’re working breeds, so mixing training sessions into their playtime is not only important but beneficial, too.
Ultimately, despite all these factors, it all boils down to your puppy itself, and how much he or she can tolerate of playtime and exercise. All puppies aren’t created equal.
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The Famous 5-Minute Rule
The 5-minute rule is an extremely popular go-to that many pet parents and trainers are singing praises on.
What the rule essentially lays down is that your puppy’s play and exercise time per day should be their age in months multiplied by 5. Therefore, for a 6-month-old puppy, this means 30 minutes of play and exercise time per day.
Effective as this rule may be to a certain extent, it, like all rules, largely discounts subjectivity, that is, not all puppies are the same.
As mentioned earlier, some puppies need more playtime than others, based on their breed, energy levels, size and so on.
It is extremely important that despite whatever playtime solution you arrive at, you split the playtime into multiple sessions.
Putting your little furball through 30 straight minutes of exercise may take its toll; 3 10-minute sessions throughout the day are a wiser option, despite your pooch’s capacity.
Therefore, splitting playtime not only ensures that the session is less stressful but also ensures that your puppy has enough time to recover between sessions.
Ultimately, though the 5-minute rule is by no means ‘one size fits all’, it’s a good place to start.
End playtime when your puppy is still prancing around wanting more; the aim of playtime is not to exhaust him or her. Look for indications of fatigue, such as frequently sitting down—once you see this, it’s a hard stop for playtime.
As it is with small kids, it’s a little bit of trial-and-error and practice with your puppy, but you’ll eventually figure out what works best.
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But How Can Playtime Be Dangerous?
Too much of anything is too bad, and this applies to playtime as well. Though you may not see it initially, the effects of too much playtime will show up in your dog’s long-term health.
Overdoing playtime stresses your pupper’s growth plates, causing them to close earlier than the standard 14 months. This could potentially lead to joint pain and bone deformation, causing them a world of pain in their later years.
How to Play with Your Puppy
If you thought playtime was something simple and straightforward, you have another thing coming.
Sure, you can just run or roll around with them, but putting in a little thought and doing it the right way can go a long way in helping your pupper’s growth, training and development, and probably get you some much-needed exercise too.
Before we discuss playing with your puppy, remember that jumping and agility-related exercises should be kept to a minimum, as this can stress the growth plates if your puppy hasn’t hit the golden 14 months yet.
A word that’s become synonymous with dogs, playing fetch is a classic game that all dogs around the world love, with no exceptions.
If your doggo’s mouth is not big enough to fit in a normal-sized ball (and it probably won’t be), consider mini tennis balls. Start off by letting them chew on this for a while before you start your game.
Once they’ve wrapped their heads around the concept of fetch (this is pretty intuitive), and they’re in love with their new toy, you can have a ton of fun with this game.
As puppies, it’s best to play indoors, as this prevents them from running far, running off or getting their paws and muzzles on and into things they shouldn’t.
Another absolute puppy favorite, wrestling with your pup will help create a bond between the two of you—it’s toy-free, raw fun.
Puppies instinctively wrestle with their littermates and therefore, may not know when they’re going overboard with their play-biting (play-biting is an inevitable part of wrestling).
This presents a great opportunity for you to train your puppy on how hard they should be biting—you can either say ‘no’ and pull your hand away, or squeal and let your hand go limp.
Once they see that you’re not responding, they’ll realize they shouldn’t be biting that hard, and eventually, learn what intensity to use when wrestling with you.
Yes, a simple walk, especially in new places, is a great playtime option. Puppies are naturally inquisitive and will love the chance to explore new and unfamiliar places. And since they’re just puppies, it won’t be hard to find new and unfamiliar places to explore.
Going on these short walks will let your puppy smell and see new things. Keeping the walk under 10 minutes and exploring new locations thrice a week is a great start to physically and mentally stimulate your puppy.
Tug of War
Tug of war is another instinctive game that dogs love, and love winning. Just put the end of a toy rope in your dog’s mouth and you’ll automatically find yourself being pulled.
You may be able to easily best your tiny pupper in this game, but letting them win a few times is good for their morale, so let go of the rope after around 20 seconds of the game.
Tug of war is also a good way to show your puppy what is within chewing limits and what isn’t—an extremely important factor that comes into play especially when they’re teething.
Is It Okay to Play with Other Dogs?
As long as both puppies have up-to-date vaccinations, playing with other dogs is a superb idea. Your puppy will learn to socialize from an early age, treating other dogs as friends and not potential territorial threats.
Getting them to play with other puppies will also help them be less aggressive in their later years. Dogs that don’t socialize enough with other dogs in their early years may be well behaved around their owners, but act up around other dogs.
When Do I Play with My Puppy?
Simply put, play with your puppy when he or she is at his energetic best, except if this is within one hour of having eaten (playing with them right after they eat can lead to stomach aches and in the worst-case scenario, canine bloat).
Another great period where play is important is when you’re crate training your pup. This way, you’re training your pup to bark only when they need to be let out of their crates.
To prevent puppies from constantly barking when in the crate, lock them up only after they’re tired. Start playing with your pup around 30 minutes before bedtime and as the fatigue sets in, switch to cuddling with them till they fall asleep.
You’ll know when your pup has fallen asleep thanks to the onset of the “floppy puppy mode”, where they’ve completely let go and feel secure in your arms, just like human babies.
Locking them up in this state will help them associate feeling cozy and loved with being in their crate.
The Final Word
To cut a long story short, playtime needs for your pup depend on your pup itself, in addition to generic factors like size, age and breed, as mentioned earlier. The 5-minute rule is a good rule to follow, as long as you aren’t discounting your pup’s needs.
Remember to stay away from intense aerobic activity such as running, jumping and agility exercises till your pup is at least 14 months old, to keep walks brief and play sessions divided and distributed throughout the day.
Starting with short sessions and gradually increasing the time and intensity is a good call, but only if your puppy is able to handle it.
Additionally, don’t let your pup deceive you—he may be able to keep up with you and seem like he has a seemingly endless supply of energy but watch carefully for signs of fatigue.
When in doubt, always turn to your vet for answers. They’re the best resource on all-things-pup related, from how much play is too much to what kind of play to indulge in and what your pup’s needs are.
Other pet parents are also good resources, but remember that at the end of the day, you know your little one best. Be careful, be mindful, and you’ll find that playtime is not only a ton of fun, but super beneficial to your little furball.